John Horgan previews the Munster and Leinster hurling finals

Epic weekend of action sees eight counties in the spotlight
John Horgan previews the Munster and Leinster hurling finals

William O'Donoghue of Limerick in action against Mark Coleman of Cork in Thurles. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

IT would be fair and reasonable to suggest that this season’s Munster hurling championship has not really caught fire, not yet anyway.

Whilst the games, Clare against Waterford, Limerick against Cork and Tipperary against Clare were interesting you could not put them in the same category as Munster championship encounters of other times.

The Tipperary, Clare encounter was blighted by an extraordinary refereeing decision at one end which resulted in Tipp belting home a penalty while at the other end a far more blatant penalty was denied to Clare.

The decision to award a penalty to Tipperary for an indiscretion that took place on the sideline completely changed the course of that game and subsequently resulted in the Premier County going through to next Sunday’s final.

Tipperary might have won anyway but it was still a very wrong decision by the referee.

Now they get the opportunity to knock Limerick off their lofty pedestal on Sunday at Páirc Uí Chaoimh but, of course, irrespective of the outcome, Limerick will still be in the McCarthy Cup race.

Tipperary will be on a revenge mission here after being on the receiving end of a nine-point drubbing at Limerick’s hands in last season’s semi-final on a day that they were just totally outclassed.

Tipperary's manager Liam Sheedy celebrates against Clare. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Tipperary's manager Liam Sheedy celebrates against Clare. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

In the most recent meeting of the teams, they could not be separated in their league encounter but that should not be a factor on Sunday.

However, it was still important for Liam Sheedy’s team to get something out of that game after losing the previous two.

Relying on what happened in any league game can be totally misleading after what transpired with Antrim over the past few months.

They had a splendid campaign, defeating Clare and drawing with Wexford in a superb game and ending up with a win over Laois.

But come the championship, that stood for really nothing and after Laois turned things around fairly dramatically against them last weekend, the Northern team now find themselves back in the second tier of the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Did they put too much into the league and it took its toll when it really mattered?

Anyway, back to the big battle down the Marina on Sunday with the winners just being 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final.

There used be a perception that going the direct route to Croke Park could militate against you because of the lengthy wait between the provincial final and the All-Ireland semi-final but given the quality of teams that you might come up against in a quarter-final, you go gung-ho to win your provincial final.

Limerick remain the firm favourites to retain both their provincial and All-Ireland titles and that’s based quite a lot on their squad depth and their ability to win when they are not playing at the top end of their game.

Many would say that was the case against Cork and they might be right and on the day some of their marquee names were called ashore.

However, they still managed to keep Cork at bay, staying four or five points ahead and not allowing the Rebels to get any closer.

Yes, Cork missed a lot of scoring opportunities but at the end of the day Limerick missed a lot more and got the result.

At the outset of the Munster championship, next Sunday’s opponents would probably have been the choice of many to contest the final.

Waterford were the country’s second-best team last season but the loss of so many key players to injury this time was always going to be a big factor.

Limerick justified their favourite’s tag against Cork and Tipperary, despite what transpired, were the fancy against Clare.

The championship in both provinces has not reached the levels it is capable of except for the wonderful Leinster semi-final between Kilkenny and Wexford which could remain the game of the year when everything is done and dusted.

Many were sceptical about Tipp’s chances this year, believing that time might have been up for some of their players on the wrong side of 30.

But it has been so far, so good with the win over Clare and the older guard are still doing a fair bit of business for them.

We’ll certainly know a whole pile more about their All-Ireland credentials after Sunday but Limerick and their options coming in from the bench look the more likely side to prevail.

The Leinster final is a bit of a novelty because of Dublin’s participation after their superb win over Galway.

The strong belief before the outset was that Kilkenny and Galway would contest the final but the enigma that is Galway hurling at times came to pass again and now it’s Dublin’s chance to deny Brian Cody another Leinster crown.

Despite losing to Cork in the U20 final, Dublin hurling seems to be on an upward trajectory and the Cats will be on high alert here.

In the qualifiers, we have another instalment of the Brian Lohan, Davy Fitzgerald, Clare and Wexford saga to look forward to and nobody will want to miss that. You would love to be in the dressing rooms for the team talks beforehand.

The hurling season is set for lift-off this weekend and with decent crowds at all venues, the fare that will be on offer has huge potential.

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